ANONYMOUS ANIMALS (2020)
Starring: Thierry Marcos, Aurélien Chilarski, Pauline Guilpain
Writer: Baptiste Rouveure
Director: Baptiste Rouveure
The roles of humans and animals are reversed in a series of vignettes which focus on the experiences of those held captive in a rural area. Humans are treated as animals would be, by humanoids with animal heads. As the blurb for this movie states, "Who and what are these people?".
Well, in answer to that question, I'd have to say that those people are us as a human race. And we don't come off well in Anonymous Animals in terms of our general concern for animal welfare. An anthropomorphic bull proves to be more than happy to over use a cattle prod. The life of a human puppy for its dog owner turns very dark, very quickly. There's far worse to come.
All of this plays out with absolutely no dialogue and only the occasional grunt/growl/neigh from the creatures in charge and this approach works superbly, immersing the viewer in the world of the animal, unable to comprehend what's going on around them, almost constantly afraid. The low camera angles force participation in the most terrifying of sequences and there's no let up across its 64 minutes.
To be honest, the running time of just over an hour is perfectly judged. The intensity of the piece is such that I was exhausted by the end. On one hand, I'm not sure I could have taken much more of the unrelenting grimness and on the other hand the overriding message doesn't have to be hammered home any more than it is. As an aside, if you can take more and are looking for a companion piece, I recommend Melanie Light's excellent short The Herd.
Which brings me to the message. For those of us who have any concern about how animals are treated, this will stir up our feelings and leave us examining our own lifestyle choices. It could possibly be viewed as vegan propaganda and although I do see that viewpoint I don't think it's quite as clear cut as that. As for those of us who didn't care about this before, will this film at least give them pause for thought? I'm not entirely sure.
For a film with such bleak subject matter, its look is stunningly beautiful by contrast, with gorgeous russet tones infusing the shots of the attractive woodland settings. Even the shots of the rundown farm's exteriors find the attractiveness in the shabby, a world away from the cold reality happening just yards away in its buildings.
The imagery is often striking, particularly the stag who happens to be the gamekeeper, patrolling the area, double-barrelled shotgun in hand. The ongoing thread about the dog was, for me, the most chillingly effective, the sense of hopelessness building as the revelation I'd be fearing came to be. It's a draining, distressing sequence with an abrupt, brutal conclusion that had me in tears.
The experimental approach of Anonymous Animals pays off handsomely and its absence of expositional talk only serves to heighten the nightmarish quality of the situations on display. The lack of subtext may leave some viewers battered by the message but Baptiste Rouveure has made a morally charged, challenging film that will linger uncomfortably in the memory. As a genre movie, it delivers true, unfiltered horror that will provoke discussion. A tough watch, no doubt, but it should be seen.